prepare for climatic events and be better off as a result. It is clear that public awareness of El Eiño has increased dramatically since early 1997. However, there is as yet no full accounting of how beneficial forecasts have been in reducing climate-related damage or in allowing people to benefit from climate-related opportunities. Even though the scientific capability to forecast seasonal-to-interannual climate variability remains imperfect, there is good reason to believe that much benefit can be gained by appropriately linking this capability to the practical needs of society.
To do this requires scientific understanding of social processes as well as climatic ones. How does society cope with seasonal-to-interannual climatic variations? How is the vulnerability to such variations distributed within and among societies? How have individuals and organizations used climate forecasts in the recent past? What kinds of forecast information are most useful to people whose well-being is sensitive to climatic variations? Who is likely to benefit from the newly acquired forecast skill? How do the benefits depend on characteristics of the users, the information in the forecast, and the ways in which it is delivered? What is the nature of the potential benefits, and how can they be measured?
This volume responds to a request from NOAA to review the state of knowledge and to identify needed research on such questions. It identifies a set of scientific questions the pursuit of which is likely to yield knowledge that can make seasonal-to-interannual climate forecasts more useful. The scientific questions flow from our findings. Here, we summarize the major findings and the scientific questions under three thematic categories: (1) the potential benefits of climate forecast information; (2) improved dissemination of forecast information; and (3) the consequences of climatic variations and climate forecasts.
Climate forecasts are inherently uncertain due to chaos in the atmospheric system; moreover, forecasting skill varies geographically, temporally, and by climate parameter. We expect forecasting skill to improve in regions and for climatic parameters for which limited skill now exists, thus increasing the potential usefulness of forecasts over time. However, research addressed to questions framed by climate science is not necessarily useful to those whom climate affects. A climate forecast is useful to a recipient only if the outcome variables it skillfully predicts are relevant and the forecast is timely in relation to actions the recipient can take to improve outcomes. Useful forecasts are those that meet recipients' needs in terms of such attributes as timing, lead time, and currency; climate